How an omelette gave Nigel Leaney his own insight into paranoia

A ‘special’ omelette served to Nigel Leaney took him to a hell that only people with acute mental health issues can truly comprehend

I was tired. We’d been travelling for more than 24 hours on an assortment of rusty ferries, hammered buses and a catamaran. The restaurant was about to close and mushroom omelette was the only meal chalked on the board. The fact that the mushroom omelette was prefixed by “special” passed by my addled brain without one tinkle of an alarm bell. An hour later I sat back, replete with a hearty dose of the powerful hallucinogenic, psilocybin, more commonly known as magic mushrooms, and something of a culinary speciality on this tiny, remote Indonesian island on which we had disembarked.

My partner was the first to realise the active ingredients of our supper. It had something to do with circumnavigating our humble beach shack a number of times, while what had previously seemed to be stones in the sand turned to skulls and bones and the fruit in the trees now appeared as slightly demonic, grinning faces. This was fortunate, as we had had something to cling on to apart from each other. “In a few hours this will pass,” became our mantra. And it was during this long, dark night of the soul that such thoughts kept me from spinning off into a black hole from where it seemed unlikely I would ever return.

Only as the first rays of sun appeared on the sea’s horizon did I know for sure that our mental health wouldn’t be returning home separately – in locked wooden crates. I was exhausted. Like I’d been in the ring all night with an unknown assailant who had torn up the rulebooks.

I can never say I fully understand what someone is going through during an acute paranoid episode. All experiences are different and I can’t presume to know another person’s. But for one night I tapped into the terror, confusion and loneliness that comes from that particular hell. And I’m no closer to understanding it. After all, mine came from an omelette served up in a restaurant.

But now it’s a little more that a word, a symptom for other people to endure and for me to record. That night changed me. Not for better or worse, but just for getting up close and personal to something profoundly strange. It was a brief encounter with a phenomenon that some people struggle with for a lifetime.

Nigel Leaney manages a mental health residential service

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